Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile yearns for immortality. Of course, not in the physical sense even though wealth and stem cells have made him look younger, alert, and vigorous. (On the last item, he has the energy to attend two birthday parties in one night, and he is still probably sexually active.)
He is in his Indian summer. He flourishes at the age of 88. In the political realm, he has a high trust rating based on the Social Weather Stations survey. His position as Senate President is secure, with the PNOY administration itself acknowledging his invaluable cooperation in promoting its legislative agenda.
The launch of his memoir was sterling, drawing the congratulations of the broad spectrum of the elite. Never mind that his memoir’s interpretation of martial law and post-martial law contradicts the belief and values of his principal guest, PNOY, and his publisher, the Lopezes.
The Senate President, through his memoir, wants to define his place in the pantheon of Philippine politicians. To quote Rappler’s Marites Vitug, who in turn cites an adage, “history is determined by who gets to define it.”
The jury is still out on Enrile’s place in history.
On the one hand, momentous events in Philippine history include Enrile’s crucial role—his revolt against Marcos, facilitating the EDSA people power that ousted the dictatorship; his vote in the Senate to terminate the Philippine-US military bases agreement; and his erudite, brilliant exercise of authority during the impeachment trial of the then Chief Justice, without which, some argue, would have led to Corona’s acquittal.
Yet, history cannot airbrush Enrile’s dark side—particularly his being an executor of the Marcos dictatorship and his association with the coup plotters who nearly toppled Cory Aquino’s democratic government.
The Chinese have a so-called “70-30” formula to assess their heroes. Mao Zedong described Stalin as 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong, despite Comrade Josef’s iron fist and savagery. Deng Xiaoping, in turn, said that Mao was 70 percent correct and 30 percent incorrect, despite Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, resulting in the death of scores of millions.
In Enrile’s case, he may not even concede that he is 30 percent wrong. His memoir justifies martial law. According to Ms. Vitug, Enrile’s “main regret was not spending more time with his wife, Cristina, and children.”
The publication of the memoir has sparked a firestorm. The public outrage in the midst of remembering the 40th year of the declaration of martial law, has resurrected Enrile’s dark side.
In addition Mr. Enrile is beleaguered by the attacks of Senator Antonio Trillanes and the media’s and civil society’s criticisms because of his opposition to legislative reforms like reproductive health (RH) and sin tax. In relation to the sin tax issue, someone close to Enrile confided to me that the Senate President is “upset with all the rumors linking him to Philip Morris.” Philip Morris, the biggest cigarette manufacturer, is lobbying for a weak sin tax law.
Nonetheless, the Senate President, a master of political survival, can weather the current onslaught. . Mr. Enrile can still attain history’s “70-30.” This will of course depend on his performance during the remainder of his term.
Specifically, the Philippine Congress is deliberating on three landmark bills, namely RH, sin tax reform, and freedom of information, which if passed, will assume great historical significance. Becoming a motive force in the passage of these reforms will hopefully move Enrile closer to attaining history’s “70-30” judgment.
As for RH, it might be unreasonable for us to demand from the Senate President to unequivocally support this. At his age, Mr. Enrile understandably wants to be closer to God, and maybe he wants to make amends to a devout Cristina. The best thing he can do, just like what he did during the impeachment trial, is to preside over the debate and the vote in a just manner, without impeding the voice of the majority.
On the sin tax, he can disprove any suspicion that he favors Philip Morris, by following what his friend Winnie Monsod once said in a column titled “A superior sin tax bill.”
I quote Professor Monsod at length:
“So now the Senate is where the battle over the sin taxes will be next played out. Rumor is that the cigarette lobby is bragging that it has captured more than enough votes….Which is why it is of crucial importance to civil society to apply counter-pressure, to use all means to ensure that the cigarette lobby does not get its way again.
“Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s version of the sin tax bill is the kind that civil society should be supporting vigorously. It has some very desirable features. First and foremost, it makes cigarette classification redundant because it adopts a uniform specific tax rate (instead of the current four tax rates) for all cigarettes….
“The Enrile bill also adopts, which the House bill does not do (another major flaw), a mechanism that will provide an automatic adjustment of tax rates relative to inflation every two years starting in 2013….
“Having done his homework, Enrile also has a provision in his bill to stop cold any attempt by manufacturers to front-load their cigarette production or importation in anticipation of increases in tax rates….
“The Senate can redeem itself. All concerned Filipinos should support this bill.”
Indeed, the Senate and Senate President Enrile can redeem themselves. The wisdom of Enrile’s bill must be upheld.
Incidentally, Ms. Monsod wrote the Inquirer column on 20 November 2004.
At present, the Senate President has not filed a bill on sin tax, but the essence of the reforms in the Enrile bill, circa 2004, is found in the bills now being deliberated in the Senate. What Mr. Enrile proposed in 2004 can now be realized. The essential role of Enrile to pass the reforms he proposed as far back as 2004 is indisputable. That will be history in the making.